The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unemployment to reach levels last experienced in the United States during the Great Depression. Given the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 recession, economic stimulus and recovery packages will be key to bringing the unemployed back into the workforce and deploying capital throughout the economy. The prospect that at least a portion of an economic stimulus plan can simultaneously accomplish climate policy priorities (a “green stimulus”) has drawn considerable interest.

Join the Center on Global Energy Policy, in partnership with The Breakthrough Institute and Data for Progress, hosted a discussion on the opportunity for climate progress with a green stimulus in the United States following the 2020 election.


  • Kendra Pierre-Louis, Climate Reporter, Gimlet


  • Dr. Noah Kaufman, Research Scholar, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia SIPA
  • Julian Brave NoiseCat, Vice President of Policy & Strategy, Data for Progress and Narrative Change Director for the Natural History Museum
  • Ted Nordhaus, Founder and Executive Director, The Breakthrough Institute
  • Dr. Leah Stokes, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

All four of the panelists have written on this topic.

In March, Julian NoiseCat co-authored an open letter to Members of Congress calling for expansive green stimulus legislation. Resembling some of the proposals for a Green New Deal, the letter proposes a wide range of policy tools, some of which would directly address emissions, including a mandate for one hundred percent clean electricity by 2030 and zero-carbon standards for building operations. It also proposes trillions of dollars in climate-friendly investments and a range of policy measures focused on addressing poverty and inequality, such as labor standards and just transition benefits. “These are precisely the kinds of policies that could resuscitate the economy, bolster the United States’ waning global influence, and preserve a healthy climate for future generations,” Julian writes.

Like Julian, Leah Stokes is an outspoken supporter of a Green New Deal, but she has noted that 100% clean electricity by 2030 may be unrealistic. On a green stimulus, Leah has argued that U.S. policymakers could power an economic rebound and prepare to meaningfully address climate change by investing stimulus funds in the renewable energy sector, and she has criticized the federal government for instead propping up the fossil fuel industry during this crisis.

Like Julian and Leah, Noah Kaufman has argued that clean energy spending belongs in stimulus legislation, but he has also cautioned of the limitations of green stimulus in the current political context of the United States. Without a national climate plan in place, clean energy spending is insufficient for delivering meaningful emissions reductions. Noah writes about the link between economic prosperity and willingness to act on climate. He urges policymakers to prioritize avoiding the disastrous consequences of a failed government response to the economic crisis. A rapid and equitable pathway to net zero emissions requires transformational policy changes that are unlikely to be included in green stimulus legislation.

By contrast, Ted Nordhaus has argued that far-reaching and unprecedented action to remake entire sectors of the US economy and deploy low-carbon technology and infrastructure may be possible, but will require that climate advocates rethink their priorities and objectives in the context of the current crisis. He is skeptical that climate mitigation policies of the sort called for by Kaufman will much move the needle on emissions and argues that emergencies like the current crisis are one of the few times when it is possible to move real resources toward new initiatives, including but not limited to major investments in cleaner technologies and infrastructure.

All four panelists agree about the need for economic stimulus and actions to reduce emissions. But they hold a range of views on the urgency of climate action and the political opportunity for climate progress during the current economic crisis.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Kendra Pierre-Louis, a top climate reporter who covers this among many other topics, and recently launched a podcast, "How to Save a Planet" that focuses on solutions to climate change, including ways people can pursue civic engagement and get involved in state and local government.